Every time we visit England, the first stop my husband has to make is to a motorway rest area. Yes, the very same ones that appear along highways and motorways everywhere …. except in England where they have a food truck in the parking lot selling authentic “Cornish Pasties”. “One Cornish pastie and one cheese and onion pastie, please.” We then go back to the car where he savors every last bite. Knowing how much he enjoys these rustic hand pies, I have learned to make them. They may not have the “terroir” of the ones in England, but they’re pretty darn good.
History of Cornish Pasties
A “pastie” is a pastry pie, most often filled with meat and/or veggies. It is thought that pies originated in England around the 1300s as a practical way to serve and preserve meats. The better cuts of meat were, of course, used by the wealthy upper class, with the lower class reduced to using entrails and organ meats, known at that time as the “umbles” (from which we get the term “eating (h)umble pie, meant as an apology). Now these “umbles” are referred to as “offal” and are quite the trend in gourmet dining.
During the Middle Ages the pies were highly spiced (in an attempt to cover up the rancid flavors, I’m assuming). With no refrigeration, pie making took place on a Monday and they were expected to last the week, if not longer. Eventually, pie making took place outside the home and the “pie man” became as important as the ‘butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker’. Hopefully, I’m not the only one who remembers the nursery rhyme “Sing a song of six pence, a pocket full of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing, wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?”
The pie quickly became popular as a method of providing a hearty meal to laborers who worked on the farms and in the mines. A hearty pie could be transported easily, required no plates or utensils and would sustain a worker til he returned home at night. Originally the hand pie was made with a savory meat filling at one end and a sweet fruit filling at the other. Who doesn’t love a little dessert at the end of their meal?
The Cornish pastie is so revered, in 2011 it received protected status from the European Commission. You can buy pasties all around the U.K., but to buy a “Cornish pastie” the Commission requires it to be prepared in Cornwall, but it can be baked elsewhere. Also, it must contain uncooked meat, potatoes, turnip, onion, salt and pepper (nothing more). It must be in the shape of a “D” and be crimped along one side. If it does not meet all these requirements, it can be a “pastie”, but not a “Cornish pastie“.
It appears even Hobbits enjoyed pasties in the Shire ….
Classic Cornish Pastie Recipe
Like regional foods everywhere, every family has their own special touches. The following is the classic recipe, which we love. Feel free to add your own special touch as well. You should get 8 to 10 servings, depending on the size of the rounds you cut from the pastry. If you are going to prepare your own pastry, it does take a little extra time, but its so good. Prepackaged pastry, however, works just fine.
All purpose flour – 2-1/4 cups
Salt – 1 teaspoon
Butter, cold, unsalted – 8 ozs., cut into cubes
Cold Water – 6 tablespoons or more
Chuck steak – 10 ozs., cut into 1/4″ dice
Onion – 1 small, cut into 1/4″ dice
Potato – 1 medium, peeled and cut into 1/4″ dice
Parsnip – 1 medium, peeled and cut into 1/4″ dice
Salt – 1 teaspoon
Pepper – 1/2 teaspoon
Egg – 1 lightly beaten
Put the flour and salt into a large bowl (or food processor) and add the cold, cubed butter. If you are using a food processor, pulse quickly til the butter is incorporated but still visible. If using your fingers, or a pastry cutter, incorporate the butter only until the mixture looks like bread crumbs. Add the cold water and mix with a fork quickly until a dough forms. If more water is needed, don’t hesitate to add it, but a little is all you need. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead briefly. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. You want the dough to stay as cold as possible to get that nice flaky crust.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Prepare two large baking sheets with parchment paper. While the oven is preheating, in a large bowl combine the diced meat, onion, potato and parsnip. Add the seasonings and set aside.
On a floured board roll out the pastry dough until it is 1/4″ thick. I cut the dough in two pieces to make handling a bit easier. Using a plate, or pot cover, or anything that will give you a 6″ diameter round (or larger, if you’d prefer), cut rounds out from the pastry dough.
Stack the rounds on a plate with waxed paper in between to prevent sticking. Gather up the scraps and reroll them. Don’t be wasteful. You should have 8 to 10 6″ rounds.
Using one pastry round at a time, place about 1/2 cup of filling to the side of the pastry. Add a pat of butter onto the filling and then brush the beaten egg around the edges. Fold the unfilled side over the filling and press down to seal.
Starting at one edge, crimp the edges to prevent leaking. A traditional Cornish pastie has 21 crimps. The most I could achieve was 14. Oh well, more practice is needed!
Place the pasties on the baking sheets and brush with the remaining egg. Cut two slits in the top of each pastie to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes until the edges begin to brown. Then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until golden. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. For lunch, a quick supper or snack, they are delicious. Enjoy!!
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